Autistic Howell student denied a time to "shine!"

     Michael Zuppardo is a 18 year old student of Howell High. If there is one thing my son loves its BOWLING!!!!! Mike has been in Howell High school for 4 years and next year will be his last year. Three years ago, Mike tried out for the Howell High School bowling team and didn't make it. He was ok with this and accepted it like a champ. Mike didn't give up there, he tried out the following season and again didn't make it. This was upsetting to him, he felt he did well and was disappointed with the decision (a few others were shocked with the decision too, feeling he did very well). That didn't keep him down, he was determined to try again the following year.

     Well, here we are in the 3rd year of tryouts. I would like to say first off, that I sent the bowling coach an email on October 16, 2013 and explained the importance of Mike possibly making the team. My son wants to be a "regular" kid and hang out with the cool kids. Being part of a team would be an important aspect to Mike's ability to grow as an young autistic adult. I was shocked when I didn't receive a response!!!!

      It was very hard as parents to hear from your son "I don't know why I didn't make it, I got in the 100's for scores." I called the school the following day. I wanted answers for Mike!! I was told that there are not many spots for the team and unfortunately he just didn't make it. Well, that wasn't a good enough answer for me!!!

     Here you have a child, who is the type of student that represents the "spirit" of Howell High. Mike doesn't ask for much, but when he does its something in his heart. I spoke to school officials and begged for Mike to be part of the team in anyway possible. Finally, they had something for me. The game plan was Mike would be able to participate in the practices, be a guest bowler at a couple of games, and receive a team shirt. Great!!! Mike was so excited and couldn't wait to start.

     My husband took him for a new ball and he began practicing, 3 strikes off the bat (with a new ball). I received a call on Monday the 6th, a day before the first practice. The call was not a good one. Sorry to inform you Mike can't bowl with the team nor can he practice. The explanation I received was Mike traveling with the team would be a "liability" for the school, since he wasn't on the roster.

      So now again I was to tell my son, sorry your not on the team (the school told him, I wasn't going to see that sad face yet again). Mike still wants to try out again next year. I hear all the time about "inclusion not exclusion." Even if my attempt to help Mike succeed in bowling fails, I would to have possibly given other students like Mike a chance to shine. 

Kelly Klink January 11, 2014 at 12:23 PM
This is NOT about Mikey being autistic. This is about the school not doing what is right. Although Mikey IS a great bowler, his mother was never requesting that he have a spot on the team roster. She simply wanted him to be APART of the bowling team because he has been so passionate about it throughout all of high school. Yes, Mikey would love to be on the team and participate as a bowler, however, that was not the request. The school could have involved Mikey in some other way on the team, even something like being a water boy would have sufficed. Many other schools have made adjustments for situations like this. Mikey should not be seen as a liability. This is not about autism, this is about the school not doing what is right. Shame on the coach for not responding to his mother, and for not going to the principal to make a request to include Michael somewhere on the team. All the school had to do was give Mikey a t-shirt, let him practice, and let him travel to the games with the team, not even play a match.. and they couldn't even follow through with that. This is HIGH SCHOOL folks, not the pros.
Lee Deca January 11, 2014 at 12:37 PM
Is there a petition anywhere to sign to get this well deserved Michael on the team? If so, please post and I willl sign and pass it around to as many people as possible.
Travis Johnson January 11, 2014 at 12:38 PM
Maxine Sokoloff Selim January 11, 2014 at 02:43 PM
They should be ashamed of themselves. Contact 20/20, 60 minutes, dateline. As well as local media and the depart of education in Trenton.
Maxine Sokoloff Selim January 11, 2014 at 02:45 PM
Makes me sad. But keep telling the story. Change will happen. One kid at a time.
s January 11, 2014 at 05:23 PM
@Travis, any rules can be found on the Board of Ed or NJSIAA website. I was making two separate points if you read more carefully. Many people are screaming that this student should be on the team just because. That is not the case in any situation. Furthermore, as I stated in a previous post, perhaps the coach jumped the gun by saying he could practice and travel with the team, and later found out that was not permissable. Maybe his mother can take him to the bowling alley since he can't ride the bus with the team, and he can participate there in another capacity. I see nothing wrong with that. It has nothing to do with compassion, because there are many kids who do not make a team for many different reasons. Having two students in high school as well, I see the disappointment all the time. Just like the kid who throws a better ball is not the quarterback because unfortunately, he is too small. Should he be the quarterback just because? Again, the coach tried to make a great gesture, maybe prematurely, andmaybe something will still be worked out with the team for this student, but people calling for the media and the firing of people and making false accusations about the school is pretty ridiculous and sad.
David Barnett January 11, 2014 at 08:19 PM
Would someone please tell me this kids average, and the average required to make the team. its math.
Frank Osnato January 11, 2014 at 09:38 PM
Moms thoughts, if you dont hsve a child with autism you shoukd judt shut your mouth mom. Any mother or father of autistic child knows how hard it is, we wish are kids could understand why they cant do this or that because most SCHOOL systems do not have a clue either. Ot took years for my kid in a school system who had no clue, they needed teachers and aids for autistic kids. Until a teacher lied about my son just to get him out of the school. Best move for us now they pay for the private school till he is 21. I could have sued the heck out of them but for our sons sake.but howell parents sounds like you need a lawyer and watch how quick he is bowling, becuase our kids and just like yours MOMS thoughts, should be no difference
Shirley Vanni January 11, 2014 at 09:44 PM
I have a child with autism and do not agree....
s January 12, 2014 at 08:50 AM
Kelly, Kyle and Kay above very well said and based on knowledge not emotions. Bravo
JustJay January 12, 2014 at 02:59 PM
This article exemplifies all that's wrong with Howell and the education system here. Michael deserves a lot of credit for trying out for the team, but Howell doesn't owe him a spot on the team. And Mrs Zuppardo article is nothing short of bullying to get her own way. On the one hand, there's a lot of talk about Michael being mainstreamed and accepted as normal. Yet part of being normal is NOT making the team. Every kid goes through it. Instead of helping Michael move on and accepting the outcome, Mrs Zuppardo is just showing him that capitalizing on his special needs is a means to achieve an end. Make up your mind, do you want special privileges or not? Howell's new motto is: If you don't like the cards you've been dealt, complain until you get a new set. There's no rules anymore, just exceptions.
Wendy Pierce January 12, 2014 at 04:27 PM
shame on howell high school! While I understand that he can't be a major part of the bowling team, they should not have promised him something that they could not deliver! what is that teaching the other kids on the bowling team! How about a little compassion for your fellow man.
Travis Johnson January 12, 2014 at 05:33 PM
It is not a coincidence the people speaking most harshly in these comments hide behind fake names...once again, the mother simply wants her son to share in the experience...as was promised and as has been done time and time again both in our local area and around the country...those who are judging are in need of their own help...Michael is lucky to havehis mother's support...why are people afraid or opposed to lifting this young man up? Compassion is strength!
Alfred Rovira January 13, 2014 at 09:49 AM
i say hang these arrogant A-HOLES out to dry call 60 mins bring the school to its knees
Karen Wall January 13, 2014 at 12:33 PM
S, you keep saying it's a liability for Michael to practice with the team, yet when the NJSIAA initially turned down Anthony Starego's request for a fifth season of eligibility, it was the NJSIAA who suggested he could practice and scrimmage with the Brick football team -- and I can assure you there's a greater liability in football than there is in bowling. If the issue is simply allowing Michael to be a part of the team even if he cannot compete at matches, then it seems to me Howell needs to take a step back for a moment and ask why this young man is being denied that lower level of participation. It's definitely not NJSIAA rules that bar it.
s January 13, 2014 at 02:28 PM
I didn't say it was a liability, the Board of Ed did. And based on the article, the liability lies with travelling on the bus. Nothing was said about being at the bowling alley as a liability. I also said, perhaps one of his parents could take him to the alley and he would then be able to take part in some way with the team.
Andy Mascola January 13, 2014 at 07:28 PM
Why can't his parents drive him to and from the matches? That way the school wouldn't be libel.
Denise Hoffman January 13, 2014 at 09:01 PM
we want Mike on the team!! He seems to have high scores!! What is the issue? So he has a small disability I bet you as a coach you have a bigger one, STRESS,,and are you off the team? Give him a chance..
Debbie Ziadeh January 14, 2014 at 05:54 AM
Rights are violated. Hire an attorney, enough with this crap! The principal should be ashamed, very poor judgment and needs redirection......stand up for this child everyone, stop talking and just do it.....
Crissy Slocum Jurj January 14, 2014 at 07:10 AM
This. Is. Bull. Ugh!!!! My autistic son's goal is to bowl in high school too and my hopes were that he'd finally make a team. I have a few years before then, sure hope I don't hit the same issue!
Marsha Salome January 14, 2014 at 07:51 AM
A possible solution might be one of this young man's parents traveling with the team to remove any liability issue the school states there is. As a parent of a middle schooler who is affected by autism, this would be the solution I would offer.
Marsha Salome January 14, 2014 at 07:56 AM
He is no more a liability on the bus than other students. To state that would indicate that there is a lack of support for the bus driver and or a lack of supervision and or doubt about the coach's ability to supervise and or thr district's inability to accommodate. All of that falls on the district's shoulders. Grab the michigan special education rules and review them. Free with a phone call to lansing...dept of education area.
Kaci Navarre January 14, 2014 at 09:45 AM
Good for you "mom"! I wouldn't give up or accept that answer. Howell high school and widen their roster if need be! I think your son should be able to be on the team! When I was in high school there was a boy with downs syndrome on our varsity team. The coach had him practice everyday and he even played in a couple games. Good for you!!! Shame on howell high and shame on the coach!
Deanna Stringer Amstutz January 14, 2014 at 10:35 AM
I assume that Mikey has an IEP. Within that IEP there is an assurance statement that schools must check yes or provide a rationale for whether or not Mikey is allowed to fully participate in all programs and activities that general education students do. Let me say that I am by no means suggesting that special education students should be on sports teams "just because." This assurance statement is meant to protect children from being left out due to disability. Anyway, parents should start there, assuming that the school stated in the IEP that Mikey can fully participate. It is very unlikely that the school denied this--- those denied are usually in segregated programs anyway. Now, if he can "fully participate," then he SHOULD be allowed a manager position or something equal if he didn't make the cut scores. Many general education students participate as a manager or extra practice participant when a child shows high levels of interest and spirit. Remember, the goal of school age sports is NOT to create professionals! The goal is to allow children a safe, positive opportunity to socialize and participate in group activities that are beneficial (teach life skills, etc). The goal so school sports is to guard against behaviors that negatively impact children (drugs, casual sex, drinking alcohol). I think the school personnel needs to check their ethics and mission statement; I doubt that this decision would jive with the districts mission statement. I hope the parents pursue this issue so that Mikey can be included, as he deserves to be.
Ryan Miller January 14, 2014 at 10:39 AM
This wont make me popular, but I don't see why he should be on the team just because he's autistic and that's what he wants. It said in the article he shoots in the hundreds, well to be honest on a lot of these high school teams you need to shoot in the 200s to make it. When I was in high school the low averages on a lot of the teams were over 200. Is it fair to another kid to lose his spot to someone when he worked possibly just as hard to earn the spot. Than you are asking the rest of the team to now sacrifice as well when they worked extremely hard as well. Winning the Michigan Championship isn't easy in this state with how good a lot of the bowling programs are. You need not only a solid 5 starters, but also a good solid 2 or 3 backups who could be starters on other teams to truly have a chance. Its not fair that the team would have to sacrifice for someone as you say who shoots in the 100s. But its ok we have to teach kids now a days that its ok because the child has a disability. Ive never met anybody who is disabled want a hand out or to be given anything, but you want us to teach kids that we should treat them differently and give them hand outs.
Lisa January 14, 2014 at 10:57 AM
1. Sorry Mama-Bear, but I think you've over-stepped your bounds on this one. My your own admission, "you" were not happy with the news that your son didn't make the cut. Your son, though certainly disappointed, seemed to handle the news with grace and perseverance (this was his 3rd tryout - you should be proud that you've helped teach him to lose graciously and try again - that is an admirable quality in anyone). But when you contacted the coach looking for special consideration for your son and called the school begging for your son to be included anyway possible, you crossed the line. You became "THAT" parent. I do feel for your son. Your son got a raw deal when the school reneged on their offer to him. It sounds, to me, that the school made the offer to appease you, but then changed it's mind or as another suggested, that it was in violation of some MHSAA bylaw. Either way, you still had the unenviable job of having to take away the excitement of being a part of the bowling team from your son. And that stinks. Instead of focusing on getting your son onto the school's bowling team, look for teams and/or leagues your son can participate in - to be a real part of, not just a part-time practicer.
El Bruno January 14, 2014 at 11:12 AM
I too have an autistic grandson who has suffered all of his life for a place to fit in. He is such a sweet, great kid, who has a heart of gold. He has a hard time making friends. Does anyone out there know of any social groups for autistic children in the Montgomery or Bucks County area for him to be a part of? Maybe we could form one and let all the children be on a bowling team or whatever else there interests are. The parents of non-autistic children can't even imagine what they good through. Look up on your computer all of the adult people that have made it big and are very well known to everyone. I believe God has given them special qualities which make them "Special" and they are referred to as "special needs children." Any gatherings would be very much appreciated. Thank you.
s January 15, 2014 at 06:15 AM
Deana-IEP does not give you a spot on a sports team. However, all schools are required under law to allow students with disabilities to try out for their school teams. In some instances, students have made sports teams, and also others have not. They are not, however, guaranteed placement on a sports team because of any disability. FYI Mikey has been made the team manager of the HHS bowling team. Having two kids in HHS myself, I knew it would all work out, sometimes these things take time with meetings and discussions between parents, student, adminstration and coaches. I think thats how it should have been handled from the beginning.
Travis Johnson January 15, 2014 at 06:54 AM
The right thing was done and that is a good thing...sometimes people need some prompting to see the light...as long as people remain open and compassionate these stories will stop being treated as the exception...socialisation is part of the high school experience and we should ALWAYS be teaching our children to be WHOLE humans...not just about winning...
Sarah January 15, 2014 at 10:45 PM
Did anyone think this has to do with his skill and not whether he is autistic? Plenty of people who suffer no disabilities are cut from teams all the time, and their parents don't declare war on the school systems because of it. You have to have a certain skill level to be accepted onto a team, and that's that... maybe he just doesn't make it up to par? Maybe I'm reading this wrong, but this seems like a mom who thinks her child should get whatever they want, whenever, and not a case of "discrimination" like it's being made out to be. Who knows.


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